espionage

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Screenshot from The Project, 28 February 2014It’s been a while since I got to talk directly to The Project presenters, but I did so last night. And I was captioned as a “Cyber Security Commentator”, which is obviously a bit special.

The story was about the security risks of webcams. Presenter Gorgi Coglan introduced it thusly:

What if I told you that the webcam in your computer could be under the control of someone on the other side of the planet, and watching everything you do right now?

I was pleased that The Project introduced the Channel TEN audience to RATs, or remote administration (or access) tools, and managed — as they nearly always do — to strike the right balance between scary and funny.

Over the fold you’ll find the video of the entire four-minute segment — starting off with a “package”, as they’re called, featuring Hacklabs director Chris Gatford, followed by the panel interviewing me.

It was the Friday team, so that panel consisted of presenter Gorgi Coglan, comedian Lehmo, the inimitable Waleed Aly and, just to be different, Richie Sambora, guitarist of Bon Jovi fame.

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Canberra sunrise: click to embiggenMy week Monday 4 to Sunday 10 November 2013 was another busy one, but I survived.

Once more the Weekly Wrap has been hideously delayed, so it’ll just be the facts.

A key part of the week was my trip to Canberra, mainly to cover the speech by Eugene Kaspersky to the National Press Club, but also to squeeze in some meetings with other people while I was there. Kaspersky seems to have dominated my media output for the week.

Podcasts

  • Corrupted Nerds: Conversations 8, being a chat about electronic voting with Dr Vanessa Teague from the University of Melbourne. If you think e-voting is the cure for electoral fraud and mistakes, you’d better listen.

Articles

Media Appearances

Corporate Largesse

  • On Thursday I went to the National Press Cub in Canberra to hear Eugene Kaspersky’s address. I was a guest at the Kaspersky Lab table, and they paid for my flights from Sydney. I paid for my own accommodation because the Kaspersky thing itself could have been a day trip.

[Photo: Canberra sunrise, photographed from Rydges Lakeside Canberra hotel on 7 November 2013.]

Composite image of ZDNet column headline and McAfee report title: click for ZDNet columnAs brokers of reliable information about the scale of online crime and espionage, most information security vendors would make great used car salesmen — but McAfee’s latest research finally seems to be taking the right path.

In my column at ZDNet Australia this week, I give McAfee some praise for the most recent research they’ve funded, a preliminary report from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies titled The Economic Impact of Cybercrime and Cyber Espionage that dismantles the daft idea that cyberstuff costs the global economy a trillion dollars a year.

McAfee now admits that you can’t run a small-N survey in a couple dozen large, wealthy nations — often a self-selected sample of known crime victims at that — and extrapolate the data globally.

Their new figure is “probably measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars”, although they never quite commit to one specific number…

“In the context of a $70 trillion global economy, these losses are small, but that does not mean it is not in the national interest to try to reduce the loss, and the theft of sensitive military technology creates damage whose full cost is not easily quantifiable in monetary terms,” McAfee writes.

True, but as McAfee themselves point out, this supposed cybercrime explosion is really down at the level of shoplifting. Retailers generally budget between 0.5% and 2% for pilferage and other such “shrinkage”.

I also mention my previous critical comments about various infosec vendors’ dodgy statistics — but I don’t link to them, because they were mostly published at non-CBS mastheads. So here’s a selection of stories I’ve written on this subject over the last couple of years.

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Screenshot from The Project, 8 July 2013The revelation that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was engaged in such comprehensive spying of American citizens and their allies, some of it possibly unconstitutional, continues to make headlines.

The focus has not narrowed to the manhunt for Edward Snowden as I’d feared. Instead, there’s a steady stream of mainstream news stories as new details emerge — including my third appearance on Channel TEN’s The Project on Monday night.

On the previous two occasions, when I was talking about cyberwar and crimefighting smartphones respectively, I was chatting with the presenters. Since they’re in Melbourne, that involved sitting in front of a green screen and looking down the barrel of a camera as if it’s your best friend.

But this time my comments were to be included in a stand-alone “package”, as they’re called, along with comments from Fairfax journalist Philip Dorling and others. So a videographer came to my hotel room on Friday afternoon to shoot me at my desk, while the Melbourne-based journalist asked me questions via speakerphone — and I looked toward a yellow piece of paper that indicated where the journalist might have been standing had he actually been there.

Ah, the magic of television!

The video of the three-and-a-half minute segment, including comments fore and aft by the presenters, is over the fold.

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Screenshot of NYTimes.com: click for original storyOn 31 January The New York Times reported that it had been hacked by China, their networks penetrated for some four months. The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post too. So naturally I ended up writing about it.

For Crikey I wrote China not the only ones taking part in cyber spookery, which puts these attacks in the context of the online espionage and sabotage operations of recent years.

“Countless organisations have experienced the same scenario in recent years,” I wrote. “But it’s big news this time because journalists were the targets.” Cynical, perhaps, but I gather security über-expert Bruce Schneier said much the same thing, so I’m kinda chuffed.

And for CSO Online I wrote Chinese attacks show up useless infosec, again.

“Recent attacks on US newspapers are further proof that, despite making billions, the information security industry is pretty much screwed,” it begins. That one won’t make me any friends. So nothing new there.

I must admit, I found both stories fairly straightforward to write. I guess I’ve been writing about this stuff long enough to feel confident about it.

China has denied the accusations, of course.

As it happens, this week’s On the Media podcast from WNYC begins with a six-minute backgrounder on the hacks which is well worth the listen.